CFLs call on Drummond

November 12, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

For two months, Mike Pringle represented the blunt edge of Baltimore's battering-ram running game.

But today, in the first Canadian Football League playoff game on United States soil, the CFLs will shift to a new face and a different gear.

Robert Drummond will be as much a mystery to the Toronto Argonauts as to an expected crowd of 40,000 at Memorial Stadium for the Eastern semifinal.

"Pringle is a heck of a back," Toronto linebacker Calvin Tiggle said yesterday. "The other guy, I don't know much about."

Because Pringle is nursing a strained right groin he suffered two weeks ago, Drummond will debut as the CFLs' starting running back in the first professional football playoff game here in 17 years.

He does not arrive in the Baltimore backfield without credentials. He rushed for 2,164 yards in a four-year career at Syracuse, and 160 more in 20 games with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was a third-round draft choice in 1989.

Until now, Drummond's biggest contribution in the CFL was an electric 41-yard touchdown run on a quick screen pass three weeks ago against the B.C. Lions.

What the CFLs lost in Pringle's power game they will try to replace with Drummond's speed and elusiveness.

"He's really a good pass receiver," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "He's probably the fastest guy on the team. He's a big guy [6 feet 3, 215 pounds], and an excellent target."

Drummond is a more polished receiver than Pringle, but an unknown when it comes to running the ball. In seven games with the CFLs, he has not rushed from scrimmage.

"The CFL is still a learning experience for me," he said. "I didn't come in to be Jerry Rice or Mike Pringle. Now, I can't worry about extraneous stimuli."

Today's game will serve as a cram course for an offensive line that sprang Pringle to a league-record 1,972 yards in the regular season. The line undergoes one more change today, when Guy Earle moves to left guard in place of Keith Ballard, who broke his leg last week.

Losing Pringle will force other adjustments.

"It's going to hurt us because we won't have the power game," tackle Neal Fort said. "But they're not sure what Rob will do.

still block the people in front of us. It's more Rob rising to the occasion. It's a challenge for him, and I think he'll do well."

The Argonauts were skeptical about reports that Pringle won't play today.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Toronto coach Bob O'Billovich said.

"I don't know if it's good or bad to have [Pringle] out of the lineup. I think Mr. Speros will inject him with something before the game." O'Billovich then nodded at Baltimore owner Jim Speros, seated in the back of the conference room.

Toronto players were equally dubious. Said defensive tackle Rodney Harding: "I won't believe it until I see [Drummond] on the field. I've been with Don Matthews. At the last minute, I'll be looking for Pringle to play. You want your best players on the field."

Harding played for Matthews in Toronto in 1990, along with Mike "Pinball" Clemons. Clemons also thought it was all a smoke screen.

"I think it's Don Matthews in prime time," he said. "When he came in [to Toronto], he told people we'd score 40 points and shoot out the light. And we set the scoring record. That's his style."

Matthews said the CFLs were placing Pringle on the reserve list, as opposed to the injured list. By putting him on the reserve list, Matthews retained the right to change his mind.

On reserve, Pringle can be activated today as little as an hour before the 4 p.m. kickoff.

If the move was a decoy, a seemingly dejected Pringle delivered his best end run of the season.

"It's real frustrating," he said, "to be watching a game from the sidelines. This is the playoffs. You've got to do what you've got to do. It's a do-or-die situation. There's nothing else to say."

It appears Matthews made the decision after Pringle pulled himself out of a Thursday practice. Pringle was hurt against Winnipeg two weeks ago, but played against Sacramento last week.

"I don't think he reinjured it," Matthews said. "I think it slowed his recovery time."

"It's in his best interest not to play. But it's very tough to convince him of that."

Drummond's increased profile gives a curious twist to the playoff game. Toronto quarterback Marvin Graves, 22, was just arriving in Syracuse when Drummond, 27, was finishing up his college career.

Just as Drummond carries a large part of Baltimore's hopes to reach the Eastern final, Graves, a rookie, is the catalyst in Toronto.

"We knew each other," Graves said. "I'd seen him around Syracuse.

"He's good. He's a strong, big back. And very quick. He's more of an elusive runner, the type back who likes to get out on the perimeter and make you miss."

CFL

PLAYOFFS

TORONTO AT BALTIMORE

When: Today, 4 p.m.

TV: ESPN2 (tape delay, 6 p.m.). expect in city (cable Ch. 41)

Radio: WJFK (1300AM)

Tickets: 20,000 remain

TODAY'S OTHER GAME:

B.C. at Edmonton, 4 p.m.

TOMORROW

Ottawa at Winnipeg, 3 p.m.

Saskatchewan at Calgary, 3 p.m.

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